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A Near Miss Hurts Both Lovers: Relationship-Building Failure

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There it was, there she was, and at that moment we had it all. Love. And an inner joy that radiated to all those around us. We’d known each other for months before I sent the email, “Um, would you like to grab a beer sometime?”

“YES!! But…”

This Is Going to Hurt

It’s as if I can’t not tell this story.

The other night, as I was telling a story to my partner, she said, “It sounds like you still love her.” I paused to let her comment sink in.

“She’s the closest I’ve come yet to finding true love. A painful miss.”

That moment, that awkward moment in the car with my current girlfriend talking about my ex-girlfriend was illuminating. There *IS* something about the other woman, my near miss, that hurts more than I’d like to admit. Even now, over a year since I moved out in protest of our ability to reach a resolution. I was seeking a resolution after two years about ONE CRITICAL ISSUE that I had raised the second week after we started dating.

Maybe there is information in the hurt that can help me understand my current plans, dreams, and path forward. Maybe the love of my new girlfriend can help me heal.

“I’m sorry,” my girlfriend said, there, in the car. “That must really be hard.”

Here’s the truth about my dearest miss:

  • i do still love her
  • i love our exponential joy
  • i love recalling our closeness during …
  • i love so much about her core of friends and family
  • i crave a kiss and a hug with a sigh
  • i miss her wit and companionship
  • i still carry a piece of the pain with me

What Have I Learned About Losing My Lover?

When you feel it, you know. When the connection floods your senses, all logic goes to static and all warning systems go offline, beware, your love and chemistry is overwhelming your rational mind.

There were plenty of red flags in the early weeks of us actually dating. Some of them within our relationship, some of them from outside influences. Most of them, I suppose, were within her. A part of her inner world she would not alter or consider altering for anyone. She’d come so far. She’d fought hard for her dream, and she was winning. Sort of.

She wouldn’t (or couldn’t) change a mindset that served her during her twenty years of solo-flight. And maybe she wasn’t that interested in changing, even if it meant losing me.

It is easy to admit, she is a badass. She’s strong, funny, and determined to provide the best life for her kid, often at her own expense. That’s the way parents are, right? Everything for our children. Chaos and childrearing go together, always. Right?

Well, yes and no. I am also a parent. It’s true, my kids are both in college, but I suffered the biggest loss when my marriage shattered into an uncontested (and grossly unfair) divorce that ripped 70% of my childrens’ time out of my heart and hands. The post-divorce reality was out of my control, for the most part, but I survived. And, though strained at times, I am happy to report that my relationship with my son and daughter gets stronger with every week that passes since they left their mother’s house..

I understand about wanting to protect and nurture your children; I loved her even more for her fierceness.

But, independence and self-reliance can also be a sign of problems.

I didn’t need her, I wanted her. I didn’t need to be with her, I wanted to be with her. And my choices in our relationship were about priorities. It was easy for me to reset my priorities toward our partnership. As my love for her grew deeper and hotter, it became clear that something was out of balance between us. Her priorities remained the same. Despite my requests, nothing change much over the two years we were together.

Let’s see if I can unpack this a bit.

The Mother and Son Team

As I encountered her for the first time, I was impressed by her strength and care around her young son. In fact, in many ways, her hyper-mom was also part of how she nurtured me. It was amazing to be with her, her capacity to LOVE was unyielding.

This was also a sign of early fractures in my aspirational relationship plans. The home team of two was doing just fine before I arrived. And, as I began to join them on the playing field of life, I learned what it felt like to be a second-string sub. I was not a primary player. I was not in her natural consideration phase.

When she made plans she let me know, “We are going to do this. You are invited if you want to join us. It’s fine if you don’t.”

“It’s fine if you don’t.”

In the early months of our courtship and relationship, that phrase felt flexible and reassuring. She was not going to be too demanding of my time or my energy. But, it was also a message. The WE was about her and her son. The WE did not include me. And over the trajectory of our relationship, I was never invited onto the first-string team. It was always their WE, plus one. I would always be an optional participant.

I was confused by this for the first year. I couldn’t understand the contradiction of love and warmth as it was tempered by “nice to have but not necessary.” I was nice to have. I was not essential.

She had one superstar player. Her world, even her own interests and goals, revolved around him. In some aspects of their lives together this was survival, this was essential. Inviting another player to be part of the team, and keeping them on the bench for the entire game, became ever more challenging as our time together extended into the first year.

Breaking Bad

I am not proud of my behavior during a good portion of this relationship. I was thrilled to be included. I was falling in love with both of them. I was reorienting my entire life towards dreams and aspirations with the two of them. But for some unexplainable reason, I could never quite get my lover over the hump. I didn’t want to diminish their relationship. I actually wanted to enrich it. But as the three of us went on, I was kept on the outside of many decisions.

As I howled out in pain, she responded with pain of her own. She was fierce. Perhaps we were missing some key ingredients. I don’t think that was it. I wanted IN. She wanted me to remain close, but not too close.

Here’s a trivial example.

As we began spending more time together, at her house, I brought my microwave oven in to replace her previous one, which was dangerous and tiny. It was a simple gesture. But somewhere, in some part of her heart, she wasn’t really ready to embrace my blending. Rather than send the dangerous microwave off to the thrift store, she kept it. She stored the crappy microwave, just in case things didn’t work out. What?

Maybe, she never fully opened to me. Maybe her heart kept her actively defending her deep, soft, loving center. She wasn’t ready to really create a WE together. She already had a WE. She had a support crew who got consideration as I remained on the bench. She was fine without me. She would be fine after I was gone. (That’s the only way I can make sense of it, in my mind.) She was prepared for it NOT TO WORK OUT.

And so after a year, I left. I proclaimed my howling pain. We couldn’t make any progress on establishing an US vs. THEM strategy. I was somehow always still a THEM. There was no position on the field for me. There was no trust that a man could actually show up. Maybe now, fulfilling her prediction, I did ultimately fail her.

I left. I broke all three of our hearts.

But Why Did You Come Back?

My therapist at the time (still my therapist) was so clear in her observation of my tumbles and revelations in this relationship. About five weeks after the first split, got together to talk about a way forward. We reignited the heat. We rebuilt our joint dream. To a point.

There were still major blockers in between us. We had SO MUCH GOOD. We also had a few sticky bits that did not seem to be fixing themselves. I began asking, clearly and directly, for what I needed. As I grew frustrated with her again, over the months, my therapist began to press me to dig deeper into my reasons for returning to a relationship with an unavailable partner.

“What changed?” my therapist asked. “Why did you come back?”

It was the essential question.

Nothing had changed. The WE of two remained strong. I remained a satellite. I was madly in love, 100% devoted, and still on the second string.

“It’s fine if you don’t,” was the mantra that bloomed into a prediction.

So I left one more time. Same issue. Same request for a position on the starting team.

She reminded me to embrace an essential truth about relationships:

If you’re waiting for someone to change, you need to move on.

I kept asking. I kept working on my side of the aisle. I wrote. I worked in therapy. I asked for what I needed to be safe. I made demands. I fought. I forgave. I tried again.

People Do What They Want To Do

She had pressures and demands of her own. She confessed to being an overwhelmed single mom. “But, wait… It doesn’t have to be that way,” I’d say. But, it continued into another year. We bloomed for a moment during the shutdown. That’s what it felt like. Now, I’m not sure. Did I just give in, give up my demands, give up being part of the team so I didn’t have to suffer alone?

As we came through the crisis together, we again had to evaluate what living together had felt like. Was it something we wanted to continue? Did we want to make bigger commitments?

My request for change remained unanswered.

She remained steadfast in her mom-and-son-against-the-world plans. There was no give. If I chose to stay, I would always be a “nice to have.” I needed to evolve into something more wholesome. I needed to build a WE together for the three of us. It seemed we could not bridge that gap. She stayed with her pre-me programming.

In the end, we parted as friends. But we parted, and I shattered into tiny pieces.

Our Journeys Continue On In New Directions

I often want to reach out to say, “Hi.” Mostly, I don’t. What’s the point? I don’t really know much about her side of the last twelve months. We still have an occasional text, but mostly it has been radio silence. The comment, a few weeks ago, echoed in my heart until this exploratory post was set in motion. The brave magic was how my current partner responded to my honest answer.

  1. She did not seek to fix me.
  2. She simply expressed her empathy
  3. We both allowed a period of silence to honor the loss.

She was seeking me out. Fearlessly stating her risky observation and then giving me the space to feel and respond. Her intentions were as clear then as they have been every step of the way. She is seeking a WE, a joint project, a vision, and a way forward together. Me too!


John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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